May 28, 2012 by Nash Riggins
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill last week effectively banning the recognition of Sharia Islamic law in all future court proceedings and legislation entertained by the state. In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation, an overwhelming majority within the Kansas State Senate passed the bill, which is designed in order to protect the rights of its citizens from “foreign” laws that could potentially muddy the ordinarily clean-cut distinction between the Church and State in American politics. Yet given the nature of the state’s duly christened “Sharia Bill”, this latest legislative attempt in order to solidify American freedoms may, in all actuality, be more akin to an open act of discrimination.
Let’s take a couple steps back, shall we? In an 1801 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, founding father Thomas Jefferson coined a term that has undoubtedly resurfaced countless times within the worldwide political spectrum: “a wall of separation between Church and State”. Contrary to common belief, Mr Jefferson was quite a religious individual; however, he did indeed assert the notion that no one man’s religion should have a major role in sculpting the laws that guide an entire body of people. Inevitably, Jefferson’s assertion made its way out of his personal correspondence and into a series of ironclad Federal laws that would go on in order to be proven infallible within all future court proceedings. As a result, it’s fair to say that, over the course of the past two hundred and some odd years, the United States Federal Government has effectively produced a watertight definition of Jefferson’s “wall of separation” that protects all citizens within US borders – domestic, foreign or otherwise – from any law or ruling which may be proven religiously biased or discriminatory in nature.
Why the history lesson? The separation between Church and State is guaranteed within legislature drafted by the US Federal Government, and devolved – yet subservient – state governments have absolutely no say whatsoever in the matter; therefore, any bill passed at the state-level claiming to uphold Jefferson’s wall of separation is completely and utterly redundant by nature. Given this realisation, one can’t help but wonder: “what was the point of passing this bill in the first place?”
As much as he may enjoy entertaining the idea, Governor Sam Brownback has absolutely no legislative power where human rights are concerned – although that clearly hasn’t stopped him from successful campaigns in order to ban gay marriage, abortion and the teaching of the evolution theory. On a side note, is it fair to say that such political policies are based solely upon Brownback’s firm, conservative Christian beliefs? You’re goddamn right it is; yet the counterintuitive way in which Governor Brownback has chosen to run his government by sloppily mixing Church with State is a completely other argument entirely. Where the Sharia bill is concerned, however, Brownback has merely – yet effectively – created an utterly redundant law that only reaffirms a Federal standard that state governments cannot alter in the first place. As a result, it appears clear that the passing of this bill has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the freedoms of Americans, and more to do with assuring Christians that individuals practicing Islam are not allowed in order to observe their holy laws on US soil.
Unfortunately, from 9/11 onwards, many regions within Middle America have been afflicted by an overwhelming sense of bigotry that tactlessly assumes that all Muslims are extremists by association; because many ‘Christian’ Americans do not understand the religious customs of different cultures, they naturally assume that these customs must be counter-productive to the American way of life. Such suspicions inevitably create a stigma surrounding Islam that may never truly be ratified; however, state governments such as that of Kansas have unacceptably taken this bigotry a step further by singling out Islam in particular as a beacon of wrong-doing. Yet if state governments cannot aptly challenge America’s nationwide recognition of the idea that religion should play no role within government, what room is there for creating legislation proclaiming that one religion in particular should not be able to practice its holy law?
Check virtually any nation’s founding piece of legislature, and without fail, each and every document will no doubt assert the legal ramifications of the Ten Commandments as outlined within the Old Testament. This inclusion is perfectly suitable for the Judeo-Christian traditions as upheld within western democracy – yet what about those who are not Christian? True enough, Islam supports identical assertions within Sharia law, whilst in some cases simultaneously emphasising numerous other guidelines in which women may not have equal rights to that of their male compatriots. In the eyes of western democracy, such gender discrimination is a clear violation of human rights; indeed, it is this very aspect of Sharia law which drives many Christian prejudices against Islam, and is also exactly why Kansas Senators claim to have driven their campaign in order to see Sharia law banned.
“I want people of other cultures, when they come to the United States, to know the freedoms they have in regard to women’s and children’s rights,” rationalised bill-sponsor Peggy Mast. “An important part of this bill would be to educate them.”
This assertion epitomises the relatively recent burst of American foreign policy which asserts that ‘everyone should have the same freedoms that we do, whether they want them or not.’ Unfortunately for US politicians, not everyone believes in the idea of democracy, and in fact many individuals have been brought up in religious societies that preach the dominance of a man’s rights over a woman’s – a small slice of which, funny enough, takes place right on American soil. Such practices may justifiably not be fair in the eyes of most; however, when a nation offers individuals the protection in order to practice a religion of their choice, that nation’s government also automatically forfeits the opportunity in order to guide every belief of the individual in question.
Above all else, the most frustrating aspect regarding this recent movement in order to see Sharia law banned is that the misguided individuals who are leading these campaigns do not even understand what Sharia is. For starters, conflicting religious views aside, in most cases Sharia law has no legal ramifications whatsoever. In fact, Sharia law is not even legally binding in most predominately Muslim nations – it’s merely the revered opinion of a cleric who has devoted his life in order to study what he believes to be the way in which his God wants him to live.
Therefore, if a Muslim couple in America wants permission from a cleric in order to get divorced based upon the principles of Sharia law, why the hell should Sam Brownback care? After visiting a cleric, that couple will still have to visit the county courthouse in order to file divorce papers, anyway; thus, Sharia law and Kansas state law can indeed coexist within divorce proceedings without trampling on Mr Brownback’s sense of Christian freedom. Taking this into account, it simply cannot be ignored that almost every citation of Sharia law within American court proceedings has been divorce-related; therefore, it seems fairly safe to assume that American law will not be completely reinvented by two individuals consenting to be legally separated via the constraints of their religious beliefs.
As a result, it’s fairly unlikely that the state of Kansas would pass a bill banning Sharia law solely because its Christian leaders care so much about Muslim women and children. Because subservient state governments have no power regarding laws concerning religious freedom in America, Brownback’s new bill has no legal ramifications – only severe social implications that further the stigma in America haunting all those who practise Islam. It truly is a shame that around 20 states in America are considering similar legislation to that of Kansas’ Sharia Bill – and while Kansas’ new law may very well be ruled unconstitutional by a Federal Court following an inevitable appeal, the damage has already been done. Perhaps in an all-too distant future, a Christian majority who fears all those with religious dissimilarities will no longer drive America’s state-level policy-agendas; in the meantime, however, it seems painfully clear that the ‘land of the free’ might not be so free for everyone.